25 September, 2020

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Rani’s Story: A Story Of Sri Lanka’s Torture And Gang-Raping

By Roma Tearne

Roma Tearne

The place has been difficult to find and I am late.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say.
And then I hand her the bunch of flowers bought on impulse. It is an unremarkable day in February. The sun does not shine and the damp air threatens rain. I have travelled up to London for this interview but at the station I hesitated, then bought some hyacinths.
The girl I am about to talk to, Rani, is twenty-six, and because I too am Sri Lankan I am interested in her story. But still, I must admit, I have been dreading this meeting. For I am neither journalist nor councillor, lawyer or doctor and I have no experience of interviewing someone who has endured what she has. So, as an uncertain gift, a token of respect, I have brought her flowers, blue as a tropical sky, scented like the air of her lost childhood. I hold them out and instantly see, even before she says a word, a desolation in her face. She is detached from her surroundings, muffled, in some way. The interview room is small. A low bed, an empty desk, a blank computer screen. No plants, no pictures on the walls, nothing personal. When I came in I noticed a row of grey socks drying on a radiator. A faint trace of incense hovers suggesting prayers. I am aware of listeners behind closed doors.
            ‘Tell me,’ I say, dismissing all thoughts of where I might be, ‘start at the beginning.’
But she cannot. Like all memories hers arrives in fragments, in vivid shards, hesitant flashbacks relived again and again in the retelling.
            ‘They killed them,’ she says, and I wait.
Once they had been six. Now Rani is just one. Alone; the emblematic story of the destruction of Tamil families.
            ‘On the ninth day of the seventh month last year,’ she tells me, closing her eyes, arms wrapped around herself, ‘my aunt rang me. She told me they had set my home on fire. She told me my mother and sister had been burnt alive. When I went back all that was left was their skeletons.’
The statement lies between us in a shock of silence. She has started with the thing upmost in her mind. Outside on the busy north London road a siren rises and falls, then fades into nothing.
Rani’s story is medieval in its savage retribution. It is a story of innocence, idealism, and betrayal in a time of civil war. One that is repeated again and again in Sri Lanka. To its shame the country has collectively mastered the art of camouflaging its horrendous crimes, bussing in western tourists to its golden beaches and fronting a campaign of faux-peace. So that the world with its limited attention span, its short supply of pity, turns a blind eye. In the glossy brochures and magazines of the west Sri Lanka is called the ‘Number One Holiday In Paradise.’
Tamil harassment and persecution had been taking place as far back as 1958. Slowly, over time the Tamils were denied education and employment. Those who could, seeing the writing on the wall, like my own Tamil father (my mother was Singhalese) left the country. As the intimidation worsened, abductions and disappearances became common and no Tamil was safe.
Rani’s story began in 2004 when she was seventeen. She was an ordinary girl whose simple religious belief made her hope to become a school teacher to help Tamil children to a better future. Her father worked for a telecommunication company, her mother, a housewife taking in sewing and keeping chickens. Rani was the eldest of four children, all of whom, throughout their young lives had seen local violence between the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, an armed separatist movement). All of them had witnessed the frequent round-ups in which the Sri Lankan authorities made the villagers assemble for questioning. Rani clearly remembers as a young child seeing older children interrogated and arrested, never to be seen again. She had grown up with the palpable feeling of injustice metered out by the Singhalese armed majority to the people in the villages in the North East.  But in 2004 she was still a dreamer, an ordinary girl, who hoped for a better future. An ordinary girl for whom the time was out of joint.
And when on that fateful evening in 2004, a man, known simply to the family as ‘Uncle’ came to her house, walking up the steps to sit out on the verandah, requesting help for the LTTE cause, it was Rani, the passionately idealist who stepped from the shadows to offer that help. It was just another evening when the Nerium bloomed. Rani’s younger sister was fourteen, her two small brothers. How could she know then what she now knows? That her life and all the lives of her family would soon be changed forever?
Soon she was recruited into the Tamil resistance movement and used as some sort of spy but really she didn’t understand the significance of what she was doing. The LTTE arranged for her to work for a non-governmental organization. Her work involved visiting war-ravaged areas to teach basic health and hygiene. She assisted doctors in medical ‘camps’ while at the same time, remarkably, completed her A Levels.
But in 2007 other, more sinister events began unfolding. The LTTE started a compulsory recruitment of child soldiers in the build up to the final phase of the war. At least one child from every family was what they wanted.
‘How long was it,’ I ask, ‘before you heard your brothers were recruited?’
At that Rani throws her head back and I wait for the storm to subside. The sound I am listening to cannot simply be called weeping. It is too wild, too primeval, too piercing. The sound goes on and on, defying words, the hopelessness a lament for lost love. When at last she speaks she describes how her brothers left at night, holding hands for mutual support. Neither of them, she says, has ever been seen again.
By 2008 hostilities between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE had moved to a part of Sri Lanka far from the north east of the island and Rani lost all contact with the rebels. Determined however to be of use to her family she took up new activities, attending courses in tailoring and cake making. But the harassment of villagers in her neighborhood continued so that suddenly, fearful of her past connection with the LTTE, her parents urged her to stay with relatives in another town.
Time passed and the war was over, in name at least. Rani was missing her family badly and in April of 2011 she moved back into her parental home. But, shortly after her return, she was arrested by the Sri Lankan intelligence forces, the CID. They kept her in jail for 10 days.
            ‘They tortured me so much’, she whispers, the coffee that has been brought in for her, untouched, growing colder.
I am silent, unable to ask the questions forming on my lips so the interpreter asks for me, instead. Yes, she was beaten. Yes, she was raped, many times. As part of the torture they cut her big toe, she tells me and I shake my head in disbelief.
            ‘They hurt my mind,’ she cries, from deep within her curled up body.
With the help of a lawyer and an MP, Rani’s father secured her release. She was admitted to hospital for a month during which time her mother held her daughter in her arms and rocked her day and night. The only thing Rani remembers of that time is the feeling of her mother’s arms, the tenderness of a woman comforting her child. As she recalls this Rani too begin to rock gently. I look away towards the dull February light coming in from the window. Words are failing me.
Finally, she left the hospital, a broken person. Those who have been tortured say that once their bodies have been violated they no longer belong to the world. It is this way for Rani. It was clear how very unwell she really was.  She hardly ate, could not sleep and the searing flashbacks that began then have never left her. The doctor she was seeing told her,  ‘forget the past.’
She could not. What had been done could not be undone.
              After her release from the hospital Rani was obliged to ‘sign on’ at a police station each week but she found the sessions deeply distressing. The men there would pull her hair, sneer at her and run their hands abusively over her body. Any resistance would have made matters worse. At one point she tried persuading her father to allow her to stop the weekly humiliations. Helplessly he told her that this was impossible unless they moved away altogether. He tried but failed to arrange a student visa that would permit her to leave Sri Lanka and come to the UK. Then, on a bright November morning, on his way to work he was abducted. For some time now he had been watched because of his daughter’s connection with the LTTE. Later, on that same day, they found his battered and bleeding body dumped very near the sea.
              ‘Everything happened because of me,’ Rani now cries. ‘They killed him because of me’.
Her father had been the gentlest of men, she says.
            ‘I wanted to die after that. I tried poison – but my mother stopped me’.
And then she adds, chillingly,
            ‘If I had died my mother and sister would still be alive’.
After her father’s death, Rani, accompanied now by an uncle, continued to sign on with the Sri Lankan authorities. But by May 2012 she was no longer able to stand the abuse. Her mother frightened for her sanity arranged once again for her to go into hiding in Trincomalee.
              During those few weeks between May and early July Rani was too frightened to leave the safe house. Her mother rang as often as she dared but men from the CID had started making spot checks on their home in search of her daughter. Her mother continued to deny all knowledge of her daughter’s whereabouts.
            ‘My mother told me not to worry. She would somehow manage the situation.’ Rani tells me.
Then on 8th July her mother rang one last time. The men told her that if she didn’t disclose Rani’s address they would kill her instead.
            ‘Don’t come home,’ her mother said. ‘Wait!’
She spent a sleepless night, worrying. The following morning her aunt telephoned the safe house. The family home had been set ablaze. Rani’s mother and younger sister had been in bed.
            ‘I went back, then,’ she tells me, her voice indistinct.
Arriving at the house she saw the villagers gathered in front of it. The moment is fixed forever in her mind, the silence of the crowd, the charred walls, the overpowering heat of the day, the smell of petrol. Someone, she cannot remember who, led her inside where two skeletons remained on a bed of ash. Everything slowed down and blurred. She saw a fragment of fabric from the dress she had handed down to her younger sister. Gripped by despair she fainted.
            Now there was no longer any reason to hide. What was lost could not be recovered. And although the police came back to harass her with questions, crazed with grief she no longer cared about her life. The villagers urged her to flee but she would not. Everyone, she tells me now, knew she would be arrested again and when they came for her in the white van she thought nothing could be worse than what had already happened. How wrong she was.
            For 47 days and nights last November, Rani was tortured and gang-raped. She was burnt with cigarettes, her head was pushed into a barrel of water. She was made to kneel while faceless men in army boots kicked her. Her distress served merely an incitement to further abuse. In the end it hardly mattered as she drifted, like a boat without oars, into semi-consciousness. Stripped of all humanity she had arrived at a place beyond human help.
            At last, on the forty-seventh day Rani’s uncle having bribed a CID officer managed to have her released. He took her to the coastal town of Mannar.
Now, in this silent interview room, with only the ticking of a clock, I am piecing together what happened next. I am piecing it through her tears for she can no longer speak in any coherent way.
She left Mannar that night hiding on the bottom of a boat. Leaving under a fistful of stars shining over a land that had betrayed her. Leaving, a word that sounded so like grieving, with the slow, slow, dip of oars into water. In this terrible way, in the torn and bloodied, semen-stained dress sewn long ago by a mother’s loving hand, carrying her broken body, she went.  Steering away from rocks that, so the legend goes, were placed there by the demon Ravana. Helplessly, sliding away from her home, shedding her past as though it were a skin. Leaving it as if it were a foreign country. Going from the place where she had been born. Sinking into the sea.
              Betrayed, she tells me, on this dull February day, ‘if they send me back from here, I will just kill myself.’
The scent of hyacinths is strong in the room.
            I have heard stories of how, in the process of the destruction of Tamil families, one shell of a person is left as a warning to others, so the brutalities could be spoken of and thus cause fear. Elie Wiesel, when she accepted the Nobel Prize said,
            ‘I have tried to keep memory alive… I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.’
This I think, is what I too must do.
‘Don’t forget your flowers,’ I say, and I place them in her hands once more before raising them up to her face.
Behind the opening buds I see her eyes, as bright and as young as the blue-winged Leafbird from that place which we both once called home.

Since writing this article an anonymous benefactor hearing of her plight has offered to pay for any medical help that Rani might need. She is also soon to undergo counselling.

Courtesy  Roma Tearne

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Latest comments

  • 0
    0

    The govt thought that by denying access to media and NGO’s it could do as it wished. However it turns out that there are hundreds and thousands of victims and eye witness accounts even outside the country, beyond the control of the govt. There are even ex military personnel giving evidence.

    Govt is still in denial whereas acceptance, justice and restitution would easily solve the problem.

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      Safa

      “There are even ex military personnel giving evidence.”

      There are 300,000 of them. Most of them will speak out if proper mechanism is available to them such as amnesty for confession.

      David Blacker over to you.

      • 0
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        Native,
        do you Think David Blacker will give an unbalanced reply?,
        Because of He is an former member of forces?.
        I don’t think So.

        • 0
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          Yes, getting Blacker’s opinion is the equivalent of asking a rapist whether the victim enjoyed the whole experience.

          • 0
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            Yes, Klosturmfuhrer/Heshan/Lester, we understand your special interest in rape, don’t we? Does this interest coincide with your oft-stated opinion that Muslims are subhumans and should be driven out of Sri Lanka, and your praise of Hitler’s genocide of the Jews, and your delight at the US atrocities against Muslims at Abu Ghraib. Please, do enlighten us on your masturbatory fantasies, as you used to on Groundviews ;)

            • 0
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              Unfortunately, Blacker, I cannot match your record of war crime atrocities. While you were engrossed in the all-important task of photographing mutilated corpses, I was stuck with studies and other mundane activities.

    • 1
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      Just for the record.

      Wondering whether “esteemed writer” Roma Tearne has ever done any work on victims of the blood thirsty LTTE.

  • 2
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    Don’t fabricate this kind of fabrication.We believe search and other harassment but this kind of rapes are utterly lie.If this done by provincial member or MP it can be happen.

    • 0
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      That’s why I even said earlier that GOSL should build goat, pigs, donkeys, horses and mare, Cow and camel farms in Army Barracks, quarters and compounds…..for them to have outlets. This may also apply to BBS.

  • 1
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    This is almost too terrible to believe, but it is also so terrible, so horrendous, that it cries out for verification and redress. Any government reading this account cannot but feel the necessity to confront it honestly and with a genuine desire to know the truth of it. They/we cannot have such actions on our conscience without wanting to know not only who the “actors” were, but also who framed the unspoken rules that allowed them to wield such terrifying power of life and death and drawn out suffering in between.

    (In the face of such a terrible account it seems almost wrong to whisper that Elie Wiesel is not a she but a he.)

  • 0
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    With all these, India wants US to go with Sri Lanka. Country of Mahatma, I gues.

  • 1
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    This single account might well be accurate, but the issue is that there are thousands and thousands of Sri Lankan people who can tell similar true stories, some less horrible, some far worse. Roma Tearne’s problem is that she only ever listens to and recounts stories from a selective section of the tems of thousands who suffered in Sri Lanka’s 30 year war. She never seems uninterested in the experiences of the families of Tamil democrats and pacifists who refused to respond to Sinhalese violence by enacting even worse violence and who were tortured or murdered as traitors by the Tigers. She has never, to my knowledge, ever attempted to convey the experiences of lower caste Tamils who children were forcibly recruited by the Tamil Tigers and forced to hack Sinhales and Moslems to death to train them in toughness, or forced to go poorly trained and armed against an over-whelming force of government soldiers.

    It’s almost as if, in Roma Tearne’s eyes, the brutality of the Tamil Tigers against their own Tamil people, let alone Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese and Moslems, never took place. Or, even more serious, that she thinks it was excusable. Come on Ms Tearne, when are you going to come clean on where you stand in relation to the ideology and actions of the Tamil Tigers?

    • 0
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      Haven’t you read the article? It certainly states what the ltte did. It was the reason for the devastation that followed and endured by this woman. The article itself is about the devastation that followed.
      The ltte were terrorists (the clue is in the name). If they were not all wiped out and if their was a credible government and justice system they could have been tried and made to answer for the blood on their hands.
      The forces were not ‘expected’ to dole out terror but they did. But apparently they have never committed any attrocities – ever.
      People have been affected by both terrors. We can only move forward as a nation if the crimes that can be answered for, are addressed. There must be some accountability – even if it goes back to the top goons. It is only then that healing can begin. This isn’t to say ‘an eye of an eye’, but acknowledging that these indeed took place and yes, someone taking the rap instead of the blanket response that nothing ever happened.
      I am no ltte sympathiser – never was, never will be, but I feel for this woman as a human being. For the many others who endured so much in those last weeks and have been silenced for fear of losing the little life they have.
      Perhaps it may have been of concern to you (rather than attacking the writer) if the subject was your niece, your sister, your child.
      The ability to step into anothers shoes and feel what they might be going through – that is what is lacking in ‘Sri Lankans’.

  • 0
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    Sinhala-Buddhism in action. This is why the international community must intervene and put sanctions on Sri Lanka until a political solution for Tamils is found.

  • 0
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    She openly insults Colombo Telegraph readers. This seems a cheap fabricated story.

    • 1
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      My heart goes out to countless thousands of innocent Sri Lankans of all backgrounds who were tortured, raped and murdered by cowards with guns. Yes that’s what they were – those from the Sri Lankan security forces, IPKF, LTTE and other Tamil militants, JVP and the Eastern Province Jihadists who committed crimes on Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim civilians taking advantage of their guns and uniforms. There are thousands of people like “Rani” who never got a chance to tell their stories.

      But this story is exploitative and manipulative. It is a neatly-constructed narrative without any loose ends or gaps to tell an inchoate reality as a sob story for the consumption of validation seeking 9 to 5 human rights careerists by a “journalist” looking for cheap fame. It’s raping “Rani” all over again.

  • 0
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    Reading the narrative written in a style that elicits many emotions, one can say that the similarity with Somali and Sudanese victims of gang-rape is striking. It is almost another world, when impunity and lack of accountability reign supreme.

    Most wars are ugly, where ever they are fought, the Balkans, Mid East, Vietnam or latin America. The oppressor is always able to carry out the worst inhuman acts imaginable, be they Muslim, Sinhala or Tamil.

    One sobering thought though, is that strong adherents to a religion (not the hectoring, boorish types)would be reluctant to commit crimes with so much impunity. Morals and values in upbringing also influence what one does, when the mind is overcome by revenge and hatred, and fed by unrestrained power at one’s disposal.

  • 0
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    What was it that the interrogators were looking for, and for which she was allegedly tortured? Why does n’t this victim give an explanation? What questions were asked? I don’t find this story credible. Iy may be just a fabrication of only the key sentences that provoke people’s anger, this being the objective behind this report. “I was picked up, I was tortured, I was raped, My family was murdered” Where is the remainder of the story? We like to know the facts, if there were any. Why is it that she was given this alleged treatment when there are thousands if other ex-LTTE women combatants that were rehabilitated and integrated into the society? What special LTTE secret did this woman hold, which the military needed to know?

  • 0
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    Interesting!! What was it that the interrogators were looking for, and for which she was allegedly tortured? Why does n’t this victim give an explanation? What questions were asked?

    I don’t find this story credible. It may be just a fabrication of the key sentences that provoke people’s anger, this being the objective behind this report.

    “I was picked up, I was tortured, I was raped, My family was murdered” Where is the remainder of the story? We like to know the facts, if there were any.

    Why is it that she was given this alleged treatment when there are thousands of other ex-LTTE women combatants that were rehabilitated and integrated into the society? What special LTTE secret did this woman hold, which the military needed to know?

  • 0
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    Sri Lanka may be the only country where the discipline enforcing arm of the armed forces – Military Police – never functioned and/or never was formed.
    This accounts for the atrocities by the army,copied by the police.
    Torture has been rampant as reported by Prof.Manfred Novak, UN Rapporteur, in October 2007.He said that torture was widely practised in police stations and elsewhere.
    Rape is just one more step in extra judicial persuasion/punishment of those opposed to state terrorism.
    Roma reports what she was told by the victim who did not elaborate as it was painful to narrate.
    These events happen in countries which practise State Terrorism.
    Same goes on now – torture,disappearances,assaults,shootings,appearance of dead bodies and putrified remains of mass burials.

  • 0
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    The story is one sided that shows the brutality of an army that required something from her which she did not divulge. Most people are tortured in this manner to get information out from them. Was she a suicide bomber? or had she been given a contract to carry out destruction? We need to know the other side of the story. A good journalist or writer will always give both sides of the story for the public to decide. Rani also says that if she surrendered her mother and sister would be living! They wanted her so bad that they even set fire to her house? What did she do? This happened during the JVP insurrection too but such stories unfortunately were never published as there was no one to weep for them from foreign lands! These kind of storied will not help the reconciliation between the Sinhalese and the Tamils!

  • 0
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    Miss. Roma, another a casualty of war is rani, i would say.You have failed to ask her and highlight the atrocities caused by the Ltte during her days with them, willingly or unwillingly she became a terrorist.
    the story is not convincing to be believed as realastic, the narration though is excellent.
    One advise to you, if i may please. you have somewhere along the lines mentioned about an interpreter. Which means that you may not know the language rani spoke of fully or convincingly. Nothing is given about the qualifications of the interpreter too. so this makes a heresay issue. Can you be more responsible please in future.
    how on earth did she land on the british isles!

    • 0
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      The atrocities of the LTTE have been looked into and well publicized by NGOs and Civil Society, plus the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) will never lose the opportunity to attack the LTTE for it. The Ministry of External Affairs has a list of the purported LTTE attacks and assassinations, some true some not. So people shouldn´t make bland and nonsensical statements.

      Questioning the interpreter´s qualifications is another attempt to obfuscate from the truth. Even the Sri Lankan courts have accepted that torture has taken place under police custody in Sri Lanka. Check some of the cases related to this. There are quite a number, not only from the LTTE war but also from the JVP insurgency.

      As for landing on the British isles, this is possible for those seeking asylum due to violence in their homelands. Once again questioning this is another attempt to hide the truth.

      As for her days in the LTTE, she had to sign up at the police station, which means she was rehabilitated by the government and released. After that why was she harassed and her family come to this end? Once again shows that there is no rehabilitation taking place nor is their any reconciliation taking place.

      If you want to espouse pedestrian piffle, I suggest you do it on the streets and stop wasting time and space that could be used for a more fruitful discussion. Thank you.

  • 0
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    Fiction at its best. Has anyone read Roma’s novels? This one is quite similar. I liked her novels. The only reason being that they are fiction. But why does she try to show this as a true story. The story is fabricated, even if it is partly true. As someone said what does Colombo Telegraph think its readers are. We dont want to hear one sided stories. Your interview with the girl has no substance. I wonder if you understood the interpreter correctly. It is a shame that you cannot understand your ‘mother tongue’. My advice to Roma is to learn the two languages Sinhalese and Tamil, if you are interested in the country you were born..

  • 0
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    Yes in agreement with the comments made by Naresh. May be you should consider publishing a book on short stories. It will sell well. But unfortunately you cannot interview any one who was injured and let to die by draining their blood to infuse to injured LTTE carders. If you could have you will out sell Harry potter series.

  • 1
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    I couldn’t control my tears when I read this. I know that LT TE committed horrible crimes. They were no saints.

    But the actions of a duly formed Government, the inaction of the civil institutions in SL is striking. This could happen only in a society which has been brainwashed completely and is full of hate towards a particular race/deemed race. It is similar to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany, it is similar to what happened to Bengalis during Mukti Bahini uprising, it is worse than the partition times (India – Pakistan partition and the riots that followed). I pray to God that the individuals and families get peace and solace. While praying I wonder why God has made this world so cruel.

  • 0
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    What a load of hogwash.I can tell you true stories of how hundreds of Tamil boys, some barely 15 years, were tortured and killed for just being in other organizations like PLOT, TELO etc. I am one of the very few escapees. These stories are documented by the University Teachers for Human Rights – Jaffna (UTHR). Come on “Roma” if that is your real name, contact the UTHR and ask for details. Don’t ignite the flames of racism again in our country. We ALL suffered for 30 long years. Your type of fiction does not do any good for any community.

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